When it comes to superhero stories, "Astro City" consistently shows us other angles besides the road-most-traveled; Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson continue that strong work in "Astro City" #29, where we learn just what it's like to live in the alternate dimension that our heroes infrequently visit and fight against.
"Astro City" #29 follows Zozat, a young Zirr who regards the dimension that holds Astro City only as the home of the evil First Family who has invaded on multiple occasions. As "Astro City" #29, we see just how the "villain" side of that sort of story would come across, doubly so for an average citizen of that world. It all leads up to another appearance by the First Family, of course, one that ultimately plunges Zozat right into the middle of the action.
What's nice about "Astro City" #29 is how well Busiek is able to walk down the proverbial middle of the road. It would be easy to simply cast the Zirr as mindless, unable-to-think-for-themselves people who are in the thrall of their leader. It would also be easy to have them forever chafing at the higher ups, secretly wishing to be free. Instead, we get somewhere in between the two. While there is a certain amount of blind obedience as one gets older (and it sounds like that might be due to any non-obedience getting wiped from their minds), we also see characters like Ziriza, who think for themselves and question the official histories, like the continued "invasions" of the First Family. Busiek also gives us a lot of exposition about the Zirr race in a surprisingly non-invasive manner; for a world that functions quite differently than ours, Busiek is able to get that information across in a smooth and easy-to-follow manner without it ever turning into a lecture. All the while, we still get to know Zozat as our protagonist, and it's hard to not cheer him on by the time we get to the cliffhanger at the end of the issue. He may be part of the opposing world's race, but he's definitely not a "bad guy."
Anderson steps up his art this month, blending his style with that of artists like Jack Kirby and Keith Giffen. We end up with a lovely, blocky style, one that brings to mind those old "Fantastic Four" and "New Gods" comics that just crackle with energy. With floppy antenna, bulging scales and faceted eyes, the Zirr look different but -- at the same time -- aren't so alien that it runs the risk of repulsing readers. The book's visuals are at their best in the title splash, though; the statue of Emperor-Next Korzinn attacking the First Family is just entrancing. I love how the chain's links aren't shaped like ours are on Earth but are instantly familiar, and the way Korzinn looms over the smaller, humble forms of the First Family brings a perfect propaganda feel to the creation. Add in a perfect old school-lettering style for the title from John Roshell, Albert Deschesne and Jimmy Betancourt, and it's pretty perfect.
"Astro City" #29 is another strong, fun issue from a fairly consistent series. I love how Busiek and Anderson don't shy away from stories that don't have easy, simple answers, and this one is no exception. I'm looking forward to see what happens next in December; if you haven't read "Astro City" in a while, this is a good place to check it out for yourself.